Friday, November 20, 2009

TEA Lawsuit on Grading Filed

AP has the story, as found here, that six separate Houston area school districts have joined in a lawsuit naming Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott as the defendant in their suit to allow the districts to continue their grading policies without state interference.

The districts include Fort Bend, Alief, Klein, Aldine, Anahuac and Clear Creek. These school districts define the suburban area around Houston proper. That is, they are most definitely not in areas impacted by high dropout rates.

I checked each district’s dropout rate on the Texas AEIS school rating system and recovered 2007 dropout rates for each district – the most recent data available online. This is what I found:

Aldine ISD – 5.9%
Alief ISD – 19.3%
Anahuac ISD – 5.1%
Clear Creek ISD – 2.8%
Fort Bend ISD – 7.6%
Klein ISD – 10.2%

The state average overall is 11.4%

The sprawling Houstion ISD, on the other hand, the inner city that these school districts surround have a reported dropout rate of 22.1%.

So of the six districts joining in the lawsuit, only one, Alief, comes within any shouting distance of having a dropout rate that should concern us all. The other five are to be congratulated for their successes.

Bringing up the question, why are these school districts suing anyone over this? Ostensibly, the grading policy as stated in the lawsuit, serves to prevent students with failing grades from giving up and dropping out. From the filing as printed in the Fort Bend blog found in The Chron:

“[Minimum grading policies] ensure that a student may still gain credit for a course as a whole and, in turn, continue progressing towards graduation, even after receiving a failing grade in, say, the first grading period, provided they can attain requisite grades in subsequent grading periods for the course. As such, minimum grading policies for report cards area key tool for keeping students in school.”

The aim, then, is to provide students with an incentive not to drop out of school.

And while a 5 or even a10 percent dropout rate is in itself tragic, it isn’t headline making.

In truth, the vast majority of students in five of these six districts which have joined in the lawsuit are not at all at risk. Not by a long shot.

But this is the thrust of the lawsuit – that the grading policy will cut down on dropout rates.

State Senator Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound) commented on the failure of school districts to comply with the new state law, and the resultant lawsuit:

“It is a sad state of affairs when school districts are willing to go to court for the right to force their teachers to assign fraudulent grades. [Administrators] are willing to waste precious education resources on a misguided lawsuit to continue these policies, which undermine the authority of our teachers and reward minimum effort from students.”

“The recent decision by six school districts to sue the Texas Education Agency over implementation of a new law on minimum grades is disturbing, because these districts are ignoring the will of lawmakers in an attempt to preserve a flawed policy of artificial grade inflation.”


“School districts are free to create a variety of policies to help students who may have gotten dismally low grades initially, but who then make valid efforts to pass their course. Districts can still allow make-up work and make-up exams or extra-credit opportunities to help students who deserve to pass. Mandating that a teacher give a minimum grade of 50 to someone who doesn't put forth the effort—often someone who doesn't show up for class or never even turns in an assignment—doesn't assure that students have mastered the subject matter and gives the distinct impression that districts are more interested in masking failure than improving student performance.”

And besides all of that, the dropout rate cited as the main reason for the grading policy is not a critical issue in 5 of the 6 districts, whose dropout rates fall below the state average.

District grading policies take all of the flexibility out of the classroom and places it squarely in school board rooms. This is not the proper place for that. Having a rigid grading policy is another in a continuous line of evidences that school boards do not trust the professional judgment of their teachers to do the right thing for their students. It is the classroom teacher who is in the best position to judge whether a student is failing due to their attitude toward education in general or due to extenuating circumstances that can be treated on an ad hoc basis.

If the teacher is the problem, there are solutions to that, more intelligent solutions than handing over grades to undeserving students.

But again, I have to ask this in the case of five of the six school districts joined in the suit:

Is there a problem?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The problem is to many students operating at an elementary level in reading and math when they reach middle school. I know numbers are being played with here. Aldine should have a much higher drop out rate. Drugs, baby making, and tattoos are what the students are interested in. No disclipline at all anymore. No notes being sent out over the major drug problems at Hambrick Middle School. Students being sent to ninth grade when they have not passed a test since 5th grade. Just keeping bumping them up Aldine.